Mr Micallef: What is the difference between you and a bucket of shit?

The SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member has used an unparliamentary expression. I ask him to withdraw.

Mr MICALLEF (Springvale): I withdraw ‘bucket’.

Strong Language, “a sweary blog about swearing”, has kicked off a series of posts about “unparliamentary language” in the Westminster system with a selection of examples from Australia.

Photos of stairs from my April holiday.

I’m a lifelong fan of role-playing games, but I rarely play them. Dungeons & Dragons. Call of Cthulhu. Vampire: The Masquerade. Cyberpunk 2013. Traveller. I’ve been enchanted by the words and illustrations, and drawn into the imaginary worlds of as many RPGs as novels. So I’m always surprised, and a little dismayed, when RPGs are left out of the popular discussion about books and reading.

Like Damien Walter, I read far more RPGs than I play. One of my favourites, The Burning Wheel, is published as a beautiful digest-size book, more like a novel than the usual giant RPG manual. Flipping back and forth between the lifepath tables, different characters and settings emerge every time. Last week, Adam Koebel presented a lecture on why he loves the game.

Recently, virtual tabletop Roll20 hired Koebel (one of the designers of Dungeon World) as its Games Master, to stream demonstration games online. They have just launched a weekly Burning Wheel game. While I don’t have hours to sit and watch talking heads on YouTube, I do like to listen to “actual play” RPG podcasts on the tram — so I created one for the Roll20 Burning Wheel game. Enjoy.

Really enjoying Capitals at the moment. It takes the basic mechanic of Letterpress but adds a little bit of strategy to it. (The free version time-limits how many games you can start — which stops it swallowing your entire life.)

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett tweeted:

Judicial disclaimer—
Everyone is presumed GUILTY until I’ve had my first piece of bacon.

He was joking (I hope!) but there may be some truth to it. An Israeli study showed that after breakfast and lunch, judges are more likely to make parole decisions favourable to offenders.

Capitalism:

Many of the people who visit me in my therapy practice spend time talking about work. How much work there is, how they never seem to be able to get it all done, how many hours they spend at work, how tired they are all the time and how fearful they are about losing their jobs. …

We’re working longer hours than ever before, and as our employment conditions continue to worsen, they’re simply repackaged into a new version of normal in an effort to make the truly pathological state of many of our workplaces appear acceptable. …

In the last month or so I’ve had several clients raise the issue of overwork with their managers, with the following results. One had a consultant brought in to assess her team’s workloads against their position descriptions. Each member was found to be working at between 130 and 160% of their load. So the load was reset and anyone working at below 150% was told they weren’t pulling their weight.

The solution? “Nothing can alleviate the stress of overwork except working less.”

Japan’s culture of using cuddly mascots to represent organisations has been criticised as “a waste of public funds” by the Finance Ministry, which “order[ed] authorities nationwide to cut back on the use of life-size yuru-kyara“. But in Rumoi, Hokkaido, they decided not to kill off their beloved mascots; instead, their eight crappy characters (one for every 6500 residents) will form into a giant, crappy municipal Voltron:

Ororon Robo Mebius, a hybrid that resembles [a] gigantic humanoid robot … has legs, arms, a face and a body that all came from different yuru-kyara representing different communities.

“We have concluded that it’s better to join forces rather than each of the mascots working individually,” said Rumoi official Mayuko Miyaji.

And to prove their commitment to the Finace Ministry’s cost-cutting effort, Rumoi commissioned this animated Ororon Robo Mebius combination sequence. I assume the enemies it destroys represent soulless econocrats.

Slaving away: The dirty secrets behind Australia’s fresh food was an excellent report on 4 Corners last night, exposing the daily reality of work for Australia’s underclass:

A Four Corners investigation has uncovered gangs of black market workers run by unscrupulous labour hire contractors operating on farms and in factories around the country. …

These labour hire contractors prey upon highly vulnerable young foreigners, many with very limited English, who have come to Australia with dreams of working in a fair country.

They’re subjected to brutal working hours, degrading living conditions and the massive underpayment of wages.

In summary:

The program heard some Baiada workers are on the job for 18 hours per day, seven days a week and are exhausted.

Two workers first employed by Baiada earned the $25 an hour award wage, but were then switched to a labour hire company operating within the factory which paid $18.

The program cited wages as low as $13 an hour at another plant.

Staff working for a Baiada labour hire sub-contractor said two workers were abused.

This sounds very familiar… Here’s David Whyte describing a NUW strike at Baiada Poultry in 2011:

On a number of visits to the picket line, I listened to numerous horror stories of workers who worked in brutal conditions and risked their lives for as little as $8 an hour.

Their union, the National Union of Workers, estimated that at any one time, at least 10 per cent of staff were absent due to work-related injury. …

Workers said when their colleague was killed in the [Baiada] chicken packing machine, they had to remove his remains from the machine, hose it down and start up production again within two hours. …

Those on the picket line spoke of constant bullying, assaults and sexual harassment by immediate superiors in the plant.

Back then, Miranda Devine called unions “evil” for campaigning against this kind of exploitation:

This is the ugly face of the increasingly militant union movement. … [C]ashed-up unions are flexing their muscles, knowing they have a short window of opportunity to entrench power before the Labor government is thrown out.

… [T]he union’s main complaint is that the company employs contract workers, which means more than half of the workforce does not belong to the union. …

Indeed, the use of labour hire contractors as a shield was a big part of the dispute — as it was again in 2014, when similar allegations arose around Baiada:

“The reasons companies engage temporary international workers through indirect employment is that they can walk away from their legal responsibilities for paying workers compensation insurance, superannuation, public liability and minimum rates of pay,” Mr Courtney [of the AMIEU] said.

A 23-year-old woman from Hong Kong who worked at the Baiada chicken processing plant in Beresfield for more than six months said she was paid $11.50 an hour and shared a house with 30 people.

Fortunately, this time around there is a conservative who is prepared to speak up for the exploited workers — Nationals MP Keith Pitt:

In my electorate of Hinkler, it is a widely known fact that labour contractors, who act as middle men in the horticulture sector, are exploiting workers and local growers. To a small extent, the problem has always existed. But it has escalated in recent years.

And he has a plan:

Federal Nationals MP, Keith Pitt, has been calling on his government to fund a special undercover team to end the worker exploitation.

Good idea — after all, that’s how 4 Corners got its evidence:

Reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna has obtained undercover footage and on-camera accounts of this dark world.

Fortunately, our legal system protects whistleblowers who obtain secret evidence of modern slavery… right? Not so much, no.

Sam Roberts, secretary of the NUW’s general branch (which covers Queensland, WA, SA and Tasmania) had his permit suspended for six months in August 2011, after [Fair Work Commission] Senior Deputy President Matthew O’Callaghan found he was “ultimately responsible” for the decision to secretly film Baiada’s workplace, publish the video on the union’s website and provide it to the ABC for broadcast.

Senior Deputy President O’Callaghan made an earlier decision in which he found Roberts and two of his officials had misused their entry rights (see Related Article) at the company’s Wingfield site in South Australia.

So surely Keith Pitt would support strengthening unions’ ability to do this important inspection work? Again, not so much.

Keith Pitt voted very strongly against increasing trade unions’ powers in the workplace

We all know these greedy unions will drive honest businesses into administration. Miranda Devine again:

Ken Phillips, executive director of Independent Contractors Australia, doesn’t think Baiada will survive this. … He says unions carefully focus their resources, targeting companies that are financially vulnerable, and around which they can build a good story for maximum public sympathy.

They don’t care if the business goes bankrupt in the process.

Won’t somebody think of the poor, exploited bosses?

Victoria’s Agriculture Minister, Peter Walsh, condemned the strike, saying the picketers were “putting animal welfare at risk” and “causing hip pocket pain for growers”.

But what happens when one of these exploitative bosses goes broke? Don’t worry, they’ve thought of that.

Staff at a labour hire company that short-changed chicken processing workers and forced them to live in overcrowded share accommodation are allegedly operating the same business under a different name after going into liquidation and escaping claims for more than $434,000 …  in back payments for work at the Baiada chicken processing plant near Newcastle.

Mr Courtney [of the AMIEU] said Pham Poultry had escaped paying its debts by going into liquidation. He said staff associated with the company had registered another business called NTD Poultry which is providing a similar labour hire service to the Baiada plant in Beresfield. …

Mr Courtney said he was chasing $1.26 million in underpayments, owed to 150 overseas workers, from four labour hire companies.

He said companies including Baiada, one of the largest chicken producers in Australia, were using labour-hire companies to keep costs competitive.

Well, you can’t blame them for competing. After all, as Phillips explained, they are “financially vulnerable”. On the brink of bankruptcy. Aren’t they?

BRW Rich Families List 2014

24. Baiada family

$523 MILLION, LAST YEAR $490 MILLION, (23), RURAL (POULTRY). SYDNEY

The Baiada family have made their fortune in poultry farming, with Baiada Poultry turning over about $1.3 billion revenue in 2013. The firm employs about 2200 people and is a major supplier to Coles, Woolworths and KFC.

But remember: these millionaires are the real victims, while the workers and their unions are the “evil” ones.

Wait until she discovers kkkk

A blind lawyer using echolocation to break out of captivity and escape an autocratic country? No, it’s not Daredevil escaping from Doctor Doom’s Latveria, it’s political dissident Chen Guagncheng escaping from house arrest in China.

Now Chen Guangcheng, popularly known as the “Barefoot Lawyer”, has revealed that he escaped using a “bat-like echolocation” technique to navigate his way more than a mile to a neighbouring village and the safety of a friend’s home.

“I drew on an old skill I had developed when I was three or four years old, a kind of bat-like echolocation,” he writes in his new memoir, ‘The Barefoot Lawyer’, which is published this week.

“By making just the slightest ‘shhhh’ sound, no louder than a light wind in a pine tree, I could determine from the returning sound waves what was in front of me, whether large object or wall, forest or field.

“I hissed under my breath and listened carefully to the patter of the raindrops for clues about what surfaces were ahead of and around me.”

Here’s a map of his escape route.

Japan says brie is not cheese:

Australia’s dairy exports to Japan are chiefly cheese, including fresh mozzarella blended there with cheese from Japan’s declining dairy industry, mainly for the pizza market.

Beyond that, the industry faces the immense obstacles of the Knife Test and the Stand-Up Test. The first requires cheese seeking to be imported by Japan, to be cut with a sharp knife.

If any cheese sticks to the blade, it is ruled not to be cheese, and cannot gain entry. This rules out almost all soft cheeses.

The Stand-Up Test provides a further, almost insurmountable, barrier to such cheeses. A sample is left at room temperature for 24 hours. If it changes shape in any way — as, for instance, ripe brie will do — then again it is barred.

The meme journalists at BuzzFeed reckon Bill Shorten “cannot shake off” this gif I made. It is now (checks notes) “a classic meme”.

The Andrews Government has issued new intellectual property guidelines for the public service, which recommend the use of Creative Commons licensing and require that “[t]he State grants rights to its intellectual property with the fewest possible restrictions.” The litmus test, as far as I’m concerned, is whether public transport timetables and journey planning find their way into Google Maps, and apparently that’s coming in March.

In the prologue to this week’s episode of This American Life, two men laughed about this story:

Ira Glass: As Miles points out, this story that she has made up, it really makes no sense at all. OK, she’s got a sociopath boyfriend —

Miles: — who had beat up his girlfriend over the very nerdy error of buying a video camera that wasn’t under warranty.

Ira Glass: *laughs*

Miles: *laughs* It wasn’t like he was drunk, and he found her cheating on him, or anything. He was like, he’s violent enough to beat somebody up. But only if they buy a video camera that we don’t have a warranty for? Because god forbid, something should happen, and this camera breaks down. We can’t get our money back. We can’t get it repaired. You know what’s going to happen. It’s like, what?

But that’s exactly what many violent relationships are like. The violence doesn’t only come in response to wrongdoing by the victim. It is completely arbitrary. A broken camera is exactly the kind of excuse some violent men will use to justify their behaviour, and their victims live in fear of any tiny transgression, real or imagined, that might spark another attack.

It annoys me that two intelligent men would have so little understanding of this endemic problem that they can *laugh* about how implausible it is.

US lawyer and anti-death penalty campaigner Bryan Stevenson:

A lot of support for the death penalty comes from a place of great distance from the true details of killing another human being.

If you ask people, how many of you support raping people who rape, you would find it very hard to find anyone that would support that. …

The reason why we would be hesitant to endorse it is that – what normal person would be paid to do something so compromising as raping a human being? But yet we have this idea that we can kill someone in a way that doesn’t implicate us. If it’s not right to torture someone for torture, abuse someone for abuse, rape someone for rape, then how can we think we can kill someone for killing? …

The firing squad – they go out of their way that not all the guns have real bullets, so that the marksmen can walk away thinking, I didn’t do it. But there’s still this dead body on the ground. If we feel the need to actually protect the moral misgivings of the people participating, then there is no greater evidence of what we are doing is wrong.

David Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who built the pepper empire from nothing, never trademarked the term, opening the door for others to develop their own sauce or seasoning and call it Sriracha. … Tran… doesn’t see his failure to secure a trademark as a missed opportunity. He says it’s free advertising for a company that’s never had a marketing budget. It’s unclear whether he’s losing out: Sales of the original Sriracha have grown from $60 million to $80 million in the last two years alone. … At the same time, Tran has signed licensing agreements with a handful of specialty producers such as … Pop Gourmet, which makes a Sriracha popcorn… Even with these partnerships, Tran doesn’t charge any royalty fees. All he asks is that they use his sauce and stay true to its flavor.

I like David Tran and his delicious rooster condiment.

>> Hello, how are you?

> I’m fine. How are you?

I’m also fine.

An email thread, or a 5th century manuscript by Rufinus of Aquileia? From Keith Houston’s fascinating history of quotation marks. (Spoiler: the inverted comma appears in the 16th century.)

This week’s episode of NPR’s new Invisibilia podcast is called How To Become Batman, but a better superhero analogy would be Daredevil — like the show’s subject, Daniel Kish, and unlike Batman, he is blind and uses echolocation to see. But the show isn’t really about echolocation, it’s about the devastating impact of low expectations. It should be compulsory listening for teachers.

Atomic Robo (one of my favourite comic books) is moving to a webcomic model, funded through Patreon, with everything published free online before being collected in print. The entire first volume is already available, and new pages will be added three days a week.

Oxfam predicts that this year, 1% of the world’s population will own 50% of its wealth. But what does that look like?

If you want a picture of the global 1%, a bien-pensant 50-something in a house in north London might be more accurate than a billionaire hedge fund manager.

Take this Australian language test. Here is the marking key: potato cake, bathers, Speedos, bloomers, spring onion, silverbeet, rockmelon, popper, polony, drink taps, soft drinks, pots and pints, facewasher, free dress, jumper, bindies.

Over 150 years ago a group of anonymous Japanese artists created a 34-ft long scroll titled He-Gassen (屁合戦), literally: “Fart Battle.” … There are people farting at each other. There are people farting through objects. There are people combating farts with fans. There are bags of farts being released. … So why did these artists create this scroll? Some have argued that it’s a form of social commentary depicting anti-foreigner sentiment as Japan was beginning to emerge from isolation. Others feel we try to read too much into the art and that it was created simply because farts are funny.

It’s true, they are.

Some things I enjoyed in 2014 that you might also enjoy.

Television

  • I was riveted by True Detective. Yes, it’s driven by toxic masculinities and has no actual women characters, but Harrelson and McConaughey play two broken men very well, and it absolutely nails cosmic horror.

  • In season 2, Orphan Black ratcheted up its comic-bookish elements without going off the rails. The conspiracy keeps getting deeper, and I need to know what happens next.

  • As Parks & Rec draws to a close, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has stepped up as a worthy successor. It follows the formula almost exactly, but that’s fine: it’s a good formula. Leaves me smiling every time.

  • By contrast, Detectorists is an unlikely show. A sitcom about a pair of hopeless metal detectorists whose relationships are falling apart? But it is just wonderful; perfectly sweet melancholy. (Its excellent theme song is by Johnny Flynn, whose own sitcom, Scrotal Recall, is much better than the title suggests.)

  • The Code is one of those shows that really doesn’t feel like it was made in Australia, and not just because Asher Keddie wasn’t in it. It’s gripping, tense, and beautifully shot. And most importantly for a tech-based thriller, it’s plausible. I hope we see more like this next year.

Comics

  • Imagine a D&D campaign played by a sassy women’s collective, and you’ve got Rat Queens. Most tolkienesque fantasy comics are utterly tedious. This is different.

  • The 2014 run of She-Hulk was written by a lawyer, and despite some silly legalese dropped in from time to time, it strikes a good balance between courtroom drama and punchy-punchy. It also has a bit of a crossover with that other Marvel lawyer-hero, Daredevil, who is my favourite, so.

  • Comic book release schedules are a pain in the butt. You get too slim a slice of story, and then it’s forgotten a month later when the next instalment comes along. I’ve really enjoyed 2000 AD‘s weekly schedule, there’s a good mix of stories, and it has a British flavour that sets it apart.

  • Questionable Content brings the feels.

  • Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona was completed this year. I can’t wait for the chance to buy a hard copy. It’s an excellent story about a shapeshifter who befriends a supervillain with a heart of gold. The blend of scifi and fantasy is just right, and the art is glorious.

Breakfasts

Cartoons

  • One of my students encouraged me to watch Steins;Gate, and she was right. It’s a very convoluted time travel story, which weaves in the real-life hoax/art project/mentally ill ramblings of John Titor. (You must watch the subtitled version; I tried watching an episode of the English dub, but Okarin’s voice — and even more so his megalomaniacal laugh — is just wrong.)

  • Although Sword Art Online is a bit hit-and-miss, I really liked the Gun Gale Online arc (season 2, episodes 1-14). Video game action mashed up with a murder mystery. Just fun.

  • Steven Universe is about a kid who wants to be part of a superhero team but can’t control his power, and also he is a lovable dork and I love him.

  • Two Books seasons of The Legend of Korra this year, and I think seeing it without a long break in the middle really emphasised how well they developed characters over time. (Korrasami is the ultimate expression of that.) The fight scenes in season 4 were especially good, really dynamic and cinematic.

  • Imagine Back to the Future on acid, and you’ve got Rick & Morty. It’s a mish-mash of scifi tropes, absolutely NSFW, and very funny. “Where are my testicles, Summer?”

Games

  • I played and ran a fair bit of Torchbearer this year, thanks to Roll20 and Google Hangouts, which make it really easy to pull a game together with whoever’s available from around the world. Looking forward to more in the new year.

  • Two Dots is my time-killer. It’s a simple colour-matching game, but has enough variation to keep it challenging. Thanks to the drip-feed of extra levels, I’m still playing it months later.

  • The art in The Banner Saga is gorgeous, the characters are compelling, and it builds a real sense of impending doom as the caravans move across the map. It’s part RPG, part resource-management, and part turn-based tactical combat, which keeps it interesting. Play it.

  • I’ve always shied away from miniatures games given the up-front cost, the time commitment required to paint them, and the complexity of the rules. Star Wars X-Wing solves all of those problems: a cheap starter set, beautiful pre-painted models, and simple rules that nevertheless allow for interesting tactics and scenarios. Pew pew pew!

  • I’ve just started playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds on the New 3DS, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Happy new year.

On the first of January 2002 new banknotes were introduced in Europe. In addition to windows and gateways, these seven banknotes also depict several bridges. … However, the bridges portrayed in the banknotes are fictional.

They have been designed to prevent one single member state from having a bridge on their banknote opposed to other states not having any depicted in theirs. In other words, “member state neutral” banknotes.

They were fictional bridges, that is, until a Dutch municipal council decided to troll the European Central Bank by building all seven around a new housing development.

Falsely Shouting Fire in a Theater: How a Forgotten Labor Struggle Became a National Obsession and Emblem of Our Constitutional Faith:

Why, after all, might Holmes have remembered and reached back to an incident from the nation’s bitter labor history to describe an equally bitter conflict over war and peace?

Perhaps it is because there is an intimate connection between public safety and private authority. A safe and secure nation, many believe, is publicly united—and privately obedient. Workers submit to employers, wives to husbands, slaves to masters, the powerless to the powerful. A safe and secure nation is built on these ladders of obedience, in its families, factories, and fields. Shake those ladders and you threaten the nation. Stop people from shaking them and you protect it. …

“Men feared witches and burned women,” wrote Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California. That’s true, but men also feared women and burned witches.

Tracey Thorn:

The true reward of making a Christmas album lies in becoming part of people’s annual traditions. I released Tinsel and Lights in 2012, so this will be its third outing on the festive turntable, and I am already getting tweets telling me that it has been fetched out of the box in the loft, along with the actual tinsel – all scruffy with bits of Sellotape that fixed it to someone’s bedroom wall last year.

I’ve never made a Christmas album, but I do share a Christmas mix every year, and a few people have complained that it’s late this year, so that’s nice. (Here it is.) I enjoy the process of digging up new versions of old favourites, and finding a few nice ones in the deluge of dross. Sadly, this year Suburban Sprawl quit publishing their usual holiday sampler. Fortunately, you can still listen to the archive, including my all-time favourite Christmas song, Will Yates’ Third-Grader Confronting the Possibility that Santa Doesn’t Exist.

Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies:

“101 Dalmatians”
A wealthy woman attempts to do her impoverished school friend Anita a favor by purchasing some of her many dogs and putting them to sensible use. Her generosity is repulsed at every turn, and Anita foolishly and irresponsibly begins acquiring even more animals, none of which are used to make a practical winter coat. Altruism is pointless. So are dogs. A cat is a far more sensible pet. A cat is objectively valuable. —No stars.

Reverse engineering the Beatles:

The mathematical tale of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Chord is a tale of 18th century mathematicians, the study of heat, Karaoke tricks and a measure of luck.

Waleed Aly on the Martin Place tragedy:

There is only a man, a gun and a flag. The man and the gun we’ve seen before. Indeed, we’ve seen it horrifically often: in Belgium just hours after Martin Place; at Port Arthur. But the flag – that changes things. It lends this the apocalyptic timbre that drives us so mad. It’s the thing in this episode that does the least damage – and the most.

At last, America learns how to make a decent coffee… But this line: “a macchiato is kind of a latte in reverse, with the espresso added to the milk” is dead wrong. That is an abomination.

For example, in Western Australia, this is almost always a double shot latte. If you serve the drink this way, the majority of your customers will get what they want, though you’re always going to disappoint a few.

The easiest way to take an order for a long macc in [Western] Australia is to ask the customer whether they would like it topped up. If the customer gives you a weird look, you might predict that they are after something completely different…

Let’s look at a macchiato. It’s an Italian word meaning stain or mark. Keeping in mind the huge espresso drinking culture in Italy, it’s safe to translate that a macchiato is an espresso with a little bit (stain) of milk. How much milk? Hmmm, well, I would say a dash. Some might say a splash, cold, warm, spoonful, foamy — it’s open to interpretation, it’s basically just a little bit of milk. My preference is a dash of hot milk, which smoothes out any edge to the espresso and adds a bit of body and sweetness.

Fortunately, that seems to be a problem specific to WA. Since moving to Melbourne I’ve never been asked about “topping up” a macchiato — t’othersiders just make it properly, with a stain of milk.

I get email that’s meant for two other Robert Corrs who think my email address is theirs. One is in Dublin and racks up a lot of toll road infringements; the other is in Texas and buys a lot of hardware. I’m just glad my surname’s not Smith…

The house contained what, in the end, was said to have been more than a hundred and seventy tons of debris. There were toys, bicycles, guns, chandeliers, tapestries, thousands of books, fourteen grand pianos, an organ, the chassis of a Model T Ford, and Dr. Collyer’s canoe… the rooms were packed almost to the ceilings, but the mass, like a Swiss cheese, was pierced by tunnels, which Langley had equipped with booby traps to foil burglars. It was in one of those tunnels that his corpse, partly eaten by rats, was finally discovered…

We’re moving house, and packing feels like this.